Metaphors and similes are an imaginative galaxy which greater minds than mine have explored. That doesn’t stop me gathering dazzling and original examples to enliven human exchange, expanding the choice of vigorous, beautiful ways to sharpen how we think, read, write and speak.

Like a kitten

Like a kitten

This novel is to a great extent about the relationship between brother and sister Maggie and Tom Tulliver. She loves him fiercely and as a child is desperate for his affection and approval. Here she knocks over something he has been building and incurs his fury. The...

As helpless as …

As helpless as …

The wonderful little girl Maggie, in a fit of pique and sorrow, hacks off her glorious dark curls and then succumbs to horror at the consequences, such as anger and mockery among the family.  She hides herself in the attic to avoid them, which leads to other equally...

It runs in families like …

It runs in families like …

George Eliot uses an asthmatic simile to reveal the religious prejudices of her characters. If they considered that it runs in families 'like asthma', you may assume they didn't approve of chapel-goers. The light and gently humorous touch is typical of her delicate...

Life simile

Life simile

What a surprising simile for life - at least in its easeful moments - likening it to a familiar tool worn to the shape of the fingers holding it, comfortably sitting in the palm of the hand which over time has itself shaped the handle. '... where life seemed like a...

Wrung from the soul

Wrung from the soul

Maggie Tulliver is a deep-feeling woman of painful sincerity, and here words are wrung from her, with a wrenching simile. 'These words were rung forth from Maggie's deepest soul, with an effort like the convulsed clutch of a drowning man.'    Source: George...

An unmapped river

An unmapped river

A marvelous image for human destinies, usually well hidden no matter the efforts we make to discern them. Since this engaging classic revolves around a mill - and a related family - on the River Floss, the watery metaphor has particular resonance, and all the more so...

Someday the history of metaphor will be written and we shall at last grasp all the truths and misconceptions in which this intensely speculative subject abounds.  

Source: Jorge Luis Borges, On Writing, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2010, p. 45

Reading as a meandering canoe

This is a beautiful metaphor for a boy discovering the magic of reading and writing, both of which were forbidden to him.

‘With his index finger, he roamed again and...

Weaving a stanza

Thoreau likens a fisherman's weaving of a creel to creating a poem about the spring. He shows great respect for skills and care in material things and processes.

'He was...

Yeast needed

Liked this way of portraying a skinny, hollowed out man - made without leaven, flat as a pancake.

'A hairless, cross-eyed man with a sharp skinny snout jumped up. He...

A shire-sized dust-sheet

The tearing of a dust-sheet isn’t an obvious sound to describe the dis-scabbarding of a Greek sword, and then Logue renders it even more striking by adding that singularly English...

St Helena in the nursery

Napoleon’s exile invoked to stand for banishment to the nursery. But the visitor deserved the rudeness. She had been enumerating the endless faults of the male sex, including lack of...

Dancing light, rippling reflections

Having occasionally lain in bed practically hypnotised by the dappling and dancing of light bouncing from water up to ceiling, I liked Hoban's reference to flashes of mystic writing, like...

As the falcon flies

Even the rhythm of this simile conveys something of a great bird's single, confident swoop to land precisely on a specific, awaiting glove.

 

'But flying, as the falcon to...

Of pig’s squeals and bugle tunes

My favourite uncompromisingly demanding schoolmaster, Bartle, side-swiping someone who praises their own use of language.

‘The right language!’ said Bartle Massey, contemptuously.  ‘You’re about as near the right language as...

Of bitterns and beaks

A moss stalk and seed likened to a bird and beak.  Lovely.

'Over and under and past boulders of granite, splashing upon mosses, whose browny-red seeds on the tall stalks...

Killing flies in midair

Memorably describing the oratory of one of several colourful, eloquent characters in Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind, a book I read in Barcelona, the city where it takes...

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